Original ideas: Extinct or never existed?

In the previous blog post, I mentioned some organizations that help protect authorship on cyber world such as Creative Commons (CC) and World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). These organizations usually analyze people’s acclaimed creative works to see if they were copied from someone else’s ideas or made original and then provide them the copyright license and tools to make sure of their own credits. But how can they know if it’s truly an original idea or just adapted from others’? How much certain are they about it?

Before getting right to the topic, let me tell you an ancient story. Three and a half billion years ago, before all of creatures were born, there was this singular cell called LUCA (Last Universal Common Ancestor). One day, when the surrounding environment was suitable enough, it reproduced itself in two cells alike, then each cell copied and divided into two continuously. During this process, some of the cells might have made ‘mistakes’ that transformed into a different form from the other cells. And when these cells combined, they made up a new body, which led to many different types of creatures which enriched the biodiversity on earth today.

Figure 1: LUCA cell

Figure 1: LUCA cell

Now, the laws of copyrights and authorship that we know always try to claim the clear boundary between each of ideas and inventions so that people can get a crystal mindset of to what extent the word “copy” means and how original ideas are distinctive to each other. However, in his video Everything Is A Remix – Part 3: The Elements of Creativity, Kirby Ferguson said ‘Nobody starts original, we all need copying until the foundation of knowledge and understanding.’ He also demonstrated the elements that build creativity which are Copy, Transform and Combine. Like what the title says, there are rarely any truly original ideas nowadays, and that makes everything a remix.

Figure 2: Elements of Creativity

Figure 2: Elements of Creativity

For instance, Hollywood has always been known for its unique and extraordinary movies and TV shows. However, according to Ferguson, a research shows that of 100 Hollywood movie hits in the last 10 years there are 74 movies which were remade, inspired, adapted or taken from comics, cartoons, video games, novels and other sources. Typical examples might include Avengers, Harry Potter, Lords of the Ring, etc. Even the most recent Fifty shades of Grey was based on the novel with same title, which started out as a fan fiction of Twilight series but with such excessively erotic and sexual content, the name was changed into Fifty Shades of Grey. So you can see that ideas inspire and get inspired by each other, and it’s the way we transform and combine that makes it creative.

Nonetheless, some may argue that this causes the authors who had the idea before that or those who discover the ‘truth’ angry. Take Hollywood as an example again, but this time more specific. In an article, Evry listed 10 Hollywood movies that may have been inspired by 10 Anime – Japanese animation. Most of them proved to have very much the same concept, just different names, perceptions and situations. For example, Disney’s The Lion King (1994) very much assembles Mushi Production’s Kimba the White Lion (1965 – 1967). They’re both about a young lion who lost his way and left his family, only came back when he was grown up and ready for his challenge. Beside from the fact that Simba and Kimba sound very much alike, the scenes like Mufasa and his son on Pride Rock, the ghost of Mufasa that appeared on the night sky, etc. were also exactly like in Japanese version. Mushi didn’t sue Disney as they considered Disney too competitive, and until now Disney still refuses to admit their inspiration from Kimba. This enrages a lot of anime fans around the world yet still no certain act has been taken.

To sum up, it is usually subjective when someone considers an idea original or copy. And as Ferguson proves, anyone’s ideas are always copied, transformed and combined to produce something new which is better and still acceptable. Just that we still need to respect the authors in return for their work, and that will be discussed in the next blog post.


Bertrand, N 2015, ‘ ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ started out as ‘Twilight’ fan fiction before becoming an international phenomenon’, 17 February, Business Insider, viewed 23 April 2015, <http://www.businessinsider.com/fifty-shades-of-grey-started-out-as-twilight-fan-fiction-2015-2>

Evry, M 2014, ‘10 Hollywood Movies That May Have Been Inspired by Anime’, 26 June, mental_floss, viewed 23 April 2015, <http://mentalfloss.com/article/57322/10-hollywood-movies-may-have-been-inspired-anime>

Ferguson, K 2011, ‘Everything Is a Remix – Part 3: Elements of Creativity’, video, 20 June, Vimeo, viewed 10 April 2015, <https://vimeo.com/25380454>

Poole, A n.d., ‘What is the Last Universal Common Ancestor (LUCA)?’, action bioscience, viewed 23 April 2015, <http://www.actionbioscience.org/evolution/poolearticle.html>


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